Hunter domestic violence (DV) organisations united on May 2 in a desperate call for service support ahead of the upcoming federal election, with more service funding, victim support and law reform as top priorities.
Nova for Women and Children, Jenny’s Place, Got Your Back Sista, Port Stephens Family and Neighbourhood Services, Warlga Ngurra and Carrie’s Place have all sent a strong message to federal candidates.
“Everybody wants the same thing – we want prevention, help and support for women experiencing DV,” said Melissa Histon, founder and CEO of Got Your Back Sista.
“All the services united because we’re all working at capacity – we’re trying to help as many women as possible, but it’s really difficult when there is a lack of accommodation, a lack of affordable housing and a lack of funding.
“We’re asking candidates what they stand for and what their commitment is to helping prevent and end domestic violence.”
Housing top of the agenda
The DV organisation’s priorities outline a number of key areas that need addressing, with housing at the top of the agenda.
Funding for emergency crisis accommodation and specialist homeless services is among all of the organisation’s needs, including transitional accommodation and services.
Executive Manager of Jenny’s Place, Marcia Chapman, told NovoNews that Newcastle accommodation demand had outstripped supply.
“At the moment, services are at capacity, so women are staying in unsafe situations because there’s nowhere to go,” Chapman said.
She said women who sought crisis accommodation had increased by 30 per cent since last year, and victims who fled to secure rental accommodation had dropped by 45 per cent, meaning they had relied on friends, family or stayed in cars.
Despite housing providers such as the Department of Housing offering assistance, Melissa Histon said services were incredibly difficult to access.
“As housing prices have gone through the roof, it’s really hard for so many women to actually access affordable housing,” Histon said.
“The commitment we’re looking for is to come up with a way to provide affordable housing for women and children, so they’re not couch surfing or living in their cars.”
On May 3, representatives from the DV organisations met with candidates from the Greens, Labor and Animal Justice parties to ascertain candidate priorities.
Their message was clear; if urgent policy action wasn’t adopted, the ramifications for women fleeing domestic violence would be severe.
“Our local services are at capacity … Nova had to close its books for a while, and victims were turned away, so funding will help us service the number of people in need,” Histon said.
“It’s women and children in our community who are losing out. They live in their cars, on the street, couch surfing or in sub-standard hotel accommodation.
“We have to do something … the violence has to end.”
Another priority was increased funding for violence education and prevention programs.
Service staff feel “helpless”
Nova for Women and Children CEO, Kelly Hansen, said the organisation had 40 local DV victims on its accommodation intake waitlist and 46 clients whom the service could not provide a caseworker for.
Due to capacity limitations, she said the service could only provide use of Nova’s hub facilities, which included food, showers and computer access.
“We need immediate fixes too… things like social housing take time,” Hansen said.
“Our biggest concern about couch surfing is that women are separated from children, and they are often expected to do domestic or sexual duties in exchange for somewhere to stay.
“There’s an indication that other women, who are forced to sleep on the street, resort to drug use to keep themselves awake and safe at night.”
She said the conditions were not just impacting victims.
“Workers continually face these situations and feel sick if they can’t assist because they know what it means,” Hansen said.
“People are leaving the sector. They can’t work this frontline where there are no resources, and they feel helpless.
“I’d give anything for politicians to come and spend a day in a service like this.”
ALP announces election package
Meanwhile, Federal Member for Newcastle, Sharon Claydon, and Labor’s Shadow Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence, Jenny McAllister, have announced a Labor promise to bolster DV support services.
The pledge would fund an extra 500 crisis workers across Australia, including $100 million for crisis accommodation, 4000 homes for women and children fleeing violence and older women on low incomes at risk of homelessness.
Labor has promised to provide $1.2 million for additional crisis accommodation in Newcastle, which would help as many as 108 women and children find refuge and fund 10 workers to help 800 women.
“Right now, women in Newcastle fleeing violence are being turned away from accommodation and support services because of insufficient funding,” Claydon said.
“Each year, nearly 10,000 women and children seeking safety are turned away because there isn’t a bed … for many women and children; this means homelessness.
“Survivors of violence are strong, and they deserve our help to rebuild their lives.”
While organisations across the Hunter welcomed the Labor pledge, representatives have voiced concerns regarding its delivery.
“It’s a wonderful start, but we need to hear more detail about how it will be implemented and if they even follow through with that commitment,” Histon said.
“At the end of the day, we wish there was no violence.
“We need support so we can support them.”
National Domestic Violence Service helpline: 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).
If you are in immediate danger, call Triple Zero (000).